A few years back, I wrote a piece for the Boston Globe called “Who Killed the Compact Pickup?” The culprits, of course, were the manufacturers themselves, which sloughed off their smaller trucks in favor of getting us all into full-size pickups. GM never gave it up completely, offering its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins as Ford jettisoned the Ranger and Dodge coasted to the grave with the Dakota. But those trucks were a half-hearted effort. The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon arriving at dealerships now is a vastly improved product, with a significantly boosted price tag.
The trouble with going on short-lead press events is that by the time you get there, everybody and their uncle has written something about the trucks, and all the articles are essentially the same. In order to get a fresh perspective on the trucks, I posted a note on the ColoradoFans.com forum, a group of people who had been following the truck’s developments since the early days. If there was anything they weren’t getting out of what they’d seen reported already, I figured they could tell me.
Along with some detailed questions about a lot of features from the radio the sliding rear window, the forum members asked three questions that really helped me look closely at the Colorado and Canyon.
Those three questions became the thing I spent most of my time figuring out, because they perfectly encapsulate a lot of the decisions that went into the new truck’s development. Let’s tick off the questions one at a time and you’ll see what I mean:
“Can adults really fit in the back seat of a crew cab?”
If there’s one thing that separates he Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon from every compact/mid-size truck that preceded it, it’s the passenger compartment.
I’ll admit that I was always a fan of the 2004 to 2012 Chevrolet Colorado. They seemed right-sized to me when trucks like the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra were getting larger and larger, for absolutely no other reason than to just be large. You could reasonably fit two people and a rear-facing baby seat in a Colorado extended cab — which I did — and they were half decent on gas, at least in the two wheel-drive configuration.
But in all honesty, they were a 1980s take on the compact truck. The interiors were 1990s-era chintzy, and there wasn’t a whole lot of consideration placed on passenger comfort.
That’s where the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon really set themselves apart. All the attention was placed on making these passenger compartments as beautifully constructed and comfortable as the Silverado/Sierra, two of the finest trucks on the market today.
GMC — which always came off as the work truck of the Chevy/GMC twins — take the interior luxury to the limit, with real aluminum trim and a stitched leather dash cover, bringing luxury to the small truck market for really the first time.
The seats in both the Colorado and Canyon hold you in place the way they’re supposed to, but never try and convince you that they’re a racing bucket. A console and floor-mounted shifter split the two front bucket seats, and that’s the only seating configuration you can get, no matter what cab setup you purchase. It’s a beautiful console, and I understand that you won’t be squeezing a third passenger up front, but a 40/60 front seat with a fold-down armrest might have been a nice option.
You can conceivably fit a full-size adult in the rear seat of the extended cab, but the passenger in front of him is going to be intimately associated with the dashboard.
The designers incorporated provisions for a child seat on the left rear seat, which is a boon to anybody with an infant. That seat’s headrest comes out of its normal position and slides into the seat bottom, extending the bottom enough to support a child seat. There’s a cable loop mounted just under the rear window to attach the high LATCH anchor. That feature works on the left side only, with the thought that the driver would have to position himself too close to the wheel to make it work on that side.
The crew cab definitely features enough room to fit an adult. You get a sense of it with Stan Ludlow, Program Engineer Manager for the Colorado and Canyon in the rear seat. I adjusted the front so I’d be comfortable driving. Stan is 5-foot 11-inches tall and there’s plenty of room behind the seat for him to be comfortable. Headroom is also significant, which was always a problem with trucks like this.
If you’re 6-foot 5-inches tall, you’re not going to be very comfy back there, but are you really going to be riding there that often? Nine times out of ten, you’re going to have kids back there, and on the rare occasions that average-sized adults are riding in the rear, they’ll have plenty of room.
“Can you fit a 4×8 sheet of plywood in the bed?”
Four-foot-by-eight-foot is the single dimension that either makes or breaks a pickup’s usefulness. It’s one of the reasons I still drive a 1996 Buick Roadmaster, in fact. Without the ability to make a run to Lowe’s and grab a stack of plywood, you might as well resign yourself to driving crossover SUVs. A truck just isn’t a truck without that ability.
Because compact pickups are narrow, you can’t squeeze a 4×8 sheet between the wheel arches. However, there are provisions in the bed to lay a 2×8 across the the bed and form a second tier that allows a 4×8 sheets to sit on top of the wheel wells, still allowing a ton of space underneath for stick lumber.
The Canyon and Colorado’s bedsides are taller, too, allowing room for more 4×8 sheets before they overtop the sides. The danger here, of course, is that you end up with a situation like that you find in all current full-size trucks, in that the bed sides are so high you can’t throw a loaded trash barrel over the side without requiring Tommy John surgery. As you can see from the photo, an average sized-adult male can reach over the side without issue.
On the negative side, Chevrolet and GMC had to eliminate one of the Colorado/Canyon’s most useful features, especially when loading those sheets of plywood. In earlier versions of the truck, the tailgate had a two-position stop. You could have it fully lowered, or you could reposition the cable to have it open half-way, perfectly aligned with a load of plywood. It made up for the fact that the bed wasn’t a full eight feet.
But for the 2015 model year, Chevrolet decided to offer a standard rear camera in all Canyon and Colorado models, regardless of trim. That’s a nice feature, and it’s well out ahead of the upcoming FMVSS 111 that will mandate its placement. It’s a great safety feature, but it’s also a big help when connecting a trailer.
But it meant that the two-stage tailgate had to go.
“How do you get the air dam off?”
Seems like a simple question that wouldn’t have much to do with the Colorado and Canyon’s design direction, but it does. The front air dam is there — along with the Cruze-inspired Active Aero Shutters behind the grille — to make the Colorado and Canyon one of the most aerodynamic pickups on the market. Engineers and designers did everything they could to make the Colorado as slippery as possible, with spats in front of the rear wheels, box-to-cab seals, a seal around the front tow-hook, a tailgate spoiler and that chin spoiler up front.
The problem is that many Canyon and Colorado buyers are concerned that it effectively reduces the truck’s approach angle off-road. CanyonFans.com wanted to know just how hard it was to remove the air dam in cases where they were going to go off the highway.
One of the trucks on display was on a rotisserie which allowed a look at the rugged underside. It allowed a perfect view of how the chin spoiler was attached: 15 bolts. However, everyone on site took pains to explain that the truck on display was an early edition in which the bolts were threaded into the captive nuts from the top, which makes getting the spoiler off more difficult. Production versions of the truck will invert the bolt/captive nut setup so that they thread in from underneath, making the spoiler that much easier to remove. If you wanted to get really slick about it, you could probably come up with some kind of quick release setup on your own.
While I’m confessing my love for the 2004 to 2012 Colorado, I’ll also reveal that I’m one of the people who always liked the Honda Ridgeline. From the outside, especially in the GMC Canyon in Silver, you get a lot of the Ridgeline’s handsome styling. But what you also get in the Canyon and Colorado that you never got in the Ridgeline is a truck’s capability.
The frame is high-strength steel and fully boxed for hauling capability. Because it’s a stiff as it is, noise and vibration isolation is remarkable, giving the Colorado and Canyon — bar none — the best ride quality in any compact pickup I’ve ever driven. Combined with the 305hp, 3.6-liter V-6, I towed a 4,500 boat and trailer combination up through the hills around Del Mar, California with no issues whatsoever.
If I have any complaint, it’s not with the engineers or the designers, but the marketing department. At no time did anyone suggest that either of these trucks were an affordable alternative to anything. We did hear that they’re between $6,000 and $10,000 less expensive than their full-size teammates, but you can easily run into $50,000 for one of those trucks.
Pricing for a stripped four-cylinder regular cab begins at around $21,000. Fairly well equipped four-wheel drive crew cabs with V-6 engines will run in the neighborhood of $37,000. The GMC Canyon SLT in four-wheel drive STARTS at $38,175, and with the entire option list thrown at it — including the Bose audio system, the spray-in bedliner and the driver alert package — you can get past $42,000.
Cars are expensive today. Class-leading design, engineering and equipment doesn’t come for free. But any time you hear “premium” from a manufacturer, expect the price tag to dial up by 15 percent.
With that one exception, the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon is a great truck, and it’s great not because the interior is nice. It’s a great truck because it combines the nice interior with the ability to do things trucks are supposed to do.